Review: On with the show for Matlock Musical Theatre

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That showbiz saying ‘The show must go on’ never had a truer ring than for Matlock Musical Theatre company.

The group’s dream of performing again at the Pavilion in Matlock Bath after nearly 40 years has finally come true.

Little Shop of Horrors

Little Shop of Horrors

But this week’s production is tinged with sadness. The driving force whose aim it was to produce Little Shop of Horrors passed away this year but there’s a real sense that his spirit is watching over the troupe.

Company chairman John Kersey died a few weeks before the show was originally due to open. The group could have been forgiven for cancelling the production but instead decided to reschedule it. “We know that this would have been John’s wish and would have had his full approval,” said joint presidents Geoff and Jacquie Stevens in the programme notes.

John is credited as director, sharing the honours with Jo Petch who isthe show’s leading lady. His daughter Kathryn is choreographer and makes up one-fifth of the the lively rock ‘n’ roll backing singers The Ronnettes.

Jo brings a gloriously ditzy shop girl to the stage in her portrayal of the lovable Audrey, glammed up to the nines in short dress, high heels and a platinum blonde wig. Her deliberate squeaky voice rises and falls to great effect, highlighting the vulnerability of a victim in an abusive relationship. Only hearts of stone would fail to melt while listening to her tender rendition of Audrey’s signature song, Somewhere That’s Green.

Opposite number, James Strath, plays the role of nerdy flower shop assistant Seymour to great effect. He inhabits the introverted character who is put-upon by his boss and then by a blood-thirsty plant. James’ duet with his leading lady in Suddenly Seymour is among the best numbers.

Steve Clements makes a good job of the role of Jewish shopkeeper Mr Mushnik, bemoaning the lack of trade then doing a merry iig when his fortunes are reversed.

Leather-clad Mark Handley plays gas-addict dentist Orin, the sadistic boyfriend of Audrey. a character which switches between acts of aggression and fits of the giggles.

All the performers come close to being eclipsed by that fiercesome plant which starts out as a shy little shrub in a pot and grows into a demanding diva with tendrils spread out across the stage. It springs into life as a talking, moving monster - thanks to the booming voice of Jim Eaglesham and the dexterity of Richard Parkinson-Brown.

A clock on the wall has a life of its own, the hands whirring around to illustrate a busy day in the shop, while outside alcoholic vagrants rifle through dustbins and smelly bag ladies in mismatched socks shuffle past street walkers.

Musical director Delph Richards conducts the six-strong orchestra and has worked hard with the performers who deliver some excellent ensemble singing. Early on in Wednesday’s opening performance the music was a little too powerful to hear individual solos but the balance settled as the show progressed.

The shabby Grand Pavilion, which is the focus of a fundraising drive to restore it to its former glory, couldn’t be a more appropriate venue to stage a musical set on Skid Row and its acoustics are perfect for musicals. Catch Little Shop of Horrors there until Friday, August 1.

A memorial concert for John Kersey will be staged at the Imperial Rooms, Matlock, on November 1.

GAY BOLTON